Social Media and Customer Care Managers, Part 1

As experts in customer care and relationship management, we focus relentlessly on the power of word of mouth. We come to work everyday to ensure that consumers have positive interactions with brands that influence their purchasing behavior and enhance the way they feel about the brand and company.

If we do our job, consumers end their interaction with us and talk freely with friends, family, coworkers and anyone who will listen about “just how wonderfully I was treated when I called Company ABC.” If we don’t execute with excellence, we understand that a customer will spread the word of their negative experience even faster.

The critical news for the customer care industry is that word-of-mouth marketing has found a brighter beam on the radar screens of marketing professionals in recent years with the growth of new and social media. For the first time in history, consumers have unfiltered access to large masses of fellow consumers – and that can only result in unbridled success or daunting failure for a brand.

As the rise of consumer-generated Internet content continues, customer care managers have the spotlight shining on them more than ever before. And instead of staring straight into the crowd paralyzed by stage fright, customer care managers should embrace the opportunity to showcase their talents and give a performance that emphasizes the leading role that excellent customer care plays in an organization’s growth and success.

Understanding the players

Although the Web initially served as a one-way channel for companies to distribute information to their customers and stakeholders, today’s World Wide Web is an ever-evolving marketing tool that has become a multi-lane communications highway that customer-service professionals need to travel.

Whether you use the Web as a customer, an investor, a consumer, an employee or even an employer, it is critical to note that the new Web destinations are more than a mere place to point and click. And for customer care professionals, the Internet today is a place where information and opinions are shared, exchanged, reproduced and publicized instantly – creating the potential for businesses and products to swim in popularity or drown in negative buzz.

Before hitting the social media highway take some time to understand the landscape–the outlets available to both your customers and your company. If you have ever felt lost in conversations of blogs, vlogs, and podcasts, read on.

Blogs: Short for “Web log,” a blog is an online journal. Typically bloggers will create their blog around a particular topic they are interested, posting their commentary and thoughts on a regular basis. Most blogs are informal and can be a hybrid of personal thoughts, links to Websites, articles, and photos.What this means for customer service professionals is that more than likely your products and services have been or will be blogged about.

Vlogs: Short for “video blog,” a vlog is an extension of the blog in the form of video. Similar to the blog it allows “vloggers” to provide their thoughts and commentary on a particular topic or recent news, but with an additional visual and audio component for its audience. Other terms for vlogs include vodcasts, vidcasts, video blogs, and many others.

Podcasts: Short for “broadcast” and “iPod,” a podcast is a digital audio file at its most basic form that can either be listened to from a computer or downloaded to play on a portable media player, such as an iPod, handheld device, or cell phone. While the range of production quality varies, a podcast can be as simple as plugging a microphone into your computer, recording your voice and uploading it to one of many free podcast directories available online. Or many online sites have simplified podcasting even more with programs that only require a telephone and the Internet–allowing podcasters to simply talk into the phone and record their voice for an online audio file. Your customers, employees, stakeholders, and company leaders can create Podcasts.

Wikis: A wiki is a Website or online resource that allows users to collaboratively create and edit content freely from any Web browser. By allowing “open editing,” many Websites have created a democratic use of the Web. Wikipedia is one of the most popular online sites that allows anyone to create and edit content within the online encyclopedia. More advanced wiki editors have some basic knowledge of HTML to include links and hypertext.

RSS Feeds: Once immersed in the online world of blogs, podcasts, wikis, etc., it can be overwhelming to keep up with daily updated content. Many news sites and blogs can be syndicated through an RSS feed. Similar to an e-mail inbox, a newsreader can be downloaded, which captures all RSS feeds that a user subscribes to in one spot. So rather than manually visiting each and every website to check for updated content, a newsreader will provide a condensed version or snapshot headlines for the updated information through the RSS feed. RSS stands for real simple syndication.

Online Communities and Networks: The Web has made it easier than ever for interest groups to connect and form online communities dedicated to their cause and interest. These online communities are not confined by geographical barriers and can grow rapidly as most allow anyone to join and interact. For customer care professionals, online communities, such as MySpace and Facebook, have become a powerful tool in the lifespan of a brand.

Understanding the landscape of the online world takes some time to process, but it is well worth the investment as you discover new ways to reach and interact with your customers. Next time we’ll look at how social media puts your customer care managers on center stage.

Linda Schellenger is president of Telerx, a Horsham, PA-based customer service outsourcer.

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